Have you heard of the case of Armour v. Indianapolis? Neither had I before this morning, but it's being argued today before the U.S. Supreme Court and has massive implications for freedom nationwide.
The City of Indianapolis gave property owners a choice to pay for a new sewer system: either pay your share at once or in installments. A few months later, the city decided it would pay for the new system differently, but decided it would keep all the money from those who paid up front. When those who paid their entire fee demanded a refund, the city balked. A court later sided on the city's side, deciding with no evidence at all that those who chose to pay everything at once must be wealthier than those who chose to pay in installments, therefore it was fair for the city to keep their money.
Do the courts exist to rubber-stamp the actions of government executives and legislators or to defend people's liberties?
This is the main question asked by Chip Mellor and his "merry band of libertarian litigators" at the Institute for Justice. For 21 years, IJ has been reminding the courts of their first duty, which is to defend the U.S. Constitution from those who would claim it permits government to affect nearly any aspect of a person's life.
Mellor spoke this morning at an event hosted by Breakfast@65 West, a civic affairs group at the Union League Club in the Loop. He explained how, since the New Deal particularly, conservatives and liberals alike have sidelined the judiciary from being what James Madison described as an "impenetrable bulwark" of liberty.
IJ chooses its cases selectively so it can have the greatest impact on restoring constitutional limits to government power. In fact, it is so good that it has won four of the five cases it has brought to the U.S. Supreme Court. These cases include expanding school choice options in Arizona and striking down a Michigan law that prohibited out-of-state wineries from shipping their product to people directly. (CORRECTION: The decision actually struck down a New York law on direct wine sales.)
The only case IJ has lost before the Supreme Court is Kelo v. City of New London, which permitted private companies to benefit from expanded eminent domain powers. However, since that loss, 44 states and eight state supreme courts have rejected that ruling.
An upcoming case will challenge federal legislation that treats renewable bone marrow identically to nonrenewable organs such as kidneys or lungs. IJ argues donors should be allowed to receive compensation for giving their bone marrow to those who need it. Currently, the donation-only system produces too little compatible bone marrow for patients in need and would treat donors, doctors, and recipients as federal felons if compensation is involved in a marrow transaction.
The Institute for Justice pursues justice in the correct order: when something unjust happens, it addresses it. It does not seek opportunities to prevent undesirable things from happening or try to use the power of government to force some to lose so others may benefit.
It is addressing another particular injustice perpetrated by the federal government this week. IJ filed an amicus brief in support of Florida's challenge to the federal health insurance mandate. They argue the mandate voids centuries of contract law by allowing people to be bound by contracts entered by duress. Historically, a contract must be entered into by both parties mutually or else it is invalid. If the court permits the individual mandate to stand, it would make it possible for any private business–such as a health insurance company–to coerce individuals into buying its goods or services.
IJ is also helping local Chicago would-be entrepreneurs. Its clinic at the University of Chicago litigates on behalf of Chicagoans–mostly on the south side–whose dreams are being stifled by excessive or unnecessary government regulation. (In fact, my former colleagues at the Illinois Policy Institute recently launched a new project locally called the Liberty Justice Center, which, in IJ's style, sued the City of Bloomington this week to permit a local entrepreneur to serve her fellow residents with a car-sharing service.)
Near the end of his talk, a member of the audience asked Mellor how he might improve the current process through which the U.S. Senate confirms justices to the Supreme Court. Mellor replied, "I would ask them to identify a single provision in the constitution that limits federal authority." Mellor said he believes many of the most recent appointees would not be able to do this.
"Never in history have limits on government power been more necessary than they are today," Mellor said this morning. He and IJ are working daily to ensure the judiciary stops abdicating its duty and, instead, becomes engaged again in protecting everyone's liberties equally.